Saturday, December 31, 2011

William Law - Holiness and Thankfulness

Here's a brilliant quote I came across today from William Law:

Would you know him who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.

If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to all happiness and perfection, he must tell you to make a rule to thank and praise God for everything that happens to you. Whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it, it turns into a blessing. Could you therefore work miracles, you would not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit; it turns all that it touches into happiness.

Quoted by Robert Atwell in Celebrating the Saints, page ii.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Search

I buy quite a few Christian books. One chore I thought needed automating was searching the half-a-dozen British Christian book websites to see which have the book and which is cheapest. I couldn't find an easy work around, so I scripted one. My JS skills aren't what they should be, but this seems to work.

<html>
<head>
<script type="text/javascript">
function dosearch() {
var sites=new Array();
sites[1]="http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=";
sites[2]="http://www.eden.co.uk/shop/search.php?category_id=&keyword=";
sites[3]="http://www.wesleyowen.com/search/product/productPowerSearch.jhtml?keywords=";
sites[4]="http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/search?searchTerm=";
sites[5]="http://www.10ofthose.com/search/?query=";
var n=1;
for (n=1;n<=5;n++)
{
var fulladd = sites[n]+ escape(document.searchform.searchterms.value);
window.open(fulladd);
}
}
</script>
<style type="text/css">
p {
font: 12pt Arial;
margin-left: 2cm;
margin-top: 1cm;
}
form {
margin-left: 3cm;
width: 10cm;
padding: 1cm;
}
</style>
<title>John's Christian Book Search</title>
</head>
<body>
<p>Please enter the name of the book you want to find in the box below, and then press "Search".</p>
<form name="searchform" onSubmit="return dosearch();">
<input type="text" name="searchterms">
<input type="submit" name="SearchSubmit" value="Search">
</form>
</body>
</html>

To use: copy and paste that into a text editor. Save it as "books.htm", and it should work. Any title you type into the box should result in you getting five windows/tabs, one for each of the online bookshops I use most often. Feel free to modify the code, redistribute and so on - it can be easily modified to work for any other searching. Just don't charge for it! If you want a copy of the html file, feel free to e-mail me and I'll send you one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two Awesome Adverts

Here's one about being welcoming (or otherwise): (hat tip)

And here's probably the best advert of the year. Acts 20:35.

The Word on the Wind - Alison Morgan

This is the best book I've read to give to members of “sleepy churches that are being woken up”. It starts off at a very general middle-of-the-road Anglicanism, even to the extent of having an introduction by Rowan Williams, and it ends up fairly close to charismatic evangelicalism.

Alison Morgan is a good and clear writer, who has obviously got lots of experience of helping people know God better and seeing him working, both in England and Africa. The only bits that got on my nerves were the bits about science and religion, where Morgan sometimes gets out of her depth. For example, in chapter 2, Morgan says that the scientific revolution was largely due to a recovery of the Greek way of thinking as compared to the Hebrew. That may well be the way things often function today, but it's just plain wrong when thinking about the history of science (for a better view, see e.g. Peter Harrison, The Fall and the Foundations of Natural Science).

But that's being picky. It's not Morgan's main point and in general this is a great book – the kind of book that made me go out and look for other stuff she's written – the kind of book I'd like to work through with folks in a church that needed waking up. She even has a poem with the reflection questions at the end of each chapter, which really isn't my style but I recognise will work well for others.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Heaven - Randy Alcorn

I would never normally have picked this book up, and that would have been my loss. It's by a chap called Randy, and has a smiling cheesy photo of him on the back. The top paragraph of the blurb is “We all have questions about what Heaven will be like, and after twenty-five years of extensive research, Dr. Randy Alcorn provides the answers.” How cheesy and yet subtly threatening! What sort of research has he done – tracking down nice people and killing then reviving them?

But actually, despite appearances, and despite one or two minor quibbles (of which more later) this is just about the best book I have ever read on the topic. The “extensive research” turns out to be detailed study of all the relevant Bible passages and reading and engaging with just about every book ever published on the topic of heaven.

What I particularly liked about it was the valuable stress on the physicality of heaven and the importance of the Old Earth at its best as at least a vague picture of the New Earth. Alcorn's picture of the afterlife is God-centred, but it has a lot of enjoying God by enjoying his (new) creation, which is something I rarely see in books which try to give a Biblical perspective.

Another thing I liked was the sheer depth of his background reading.

I shall rise from the dead... I shall see the Son of God, the Sun of Glory, and shine myself as that sun shines. I shall be united to the Ancient of Days, to God Himself, who had no morning, never began... No man ever saw God and lived. And yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him, I shall never die.
John Donne

I've got a few small quibbles though. Alcorn talks about the Millennium far too much for something that only gets one Bible verse on it (and that contested and in a highly symbolic passage). Maybe that's because he knows loads of people who think it is really important. I don't, but then I don't do loads of stuff with Christians in America. I don't dramatically disagree with him, I just don't see the point of him mentioning it so much, but maybe that's because he's in a different context from me.

About 40% of the book (>200/550) is a section entitled “Question and Answers About Heaven”, which is sometimes weak and gets a bit repetitive. For example:

In heaven, will we be able to do time travel and go back and watch exciting events from the past?
Yeah, that would be pretty cool. I don't see any good reason why not. Hey – if you did that we could go back and watch the Sermon on the Mount or the parting of the Red Sea. That would be great!
And will we able to live in fairytale castles with knights and dragons like in medieval times?
Ooh wow – some people would really like that. I don't know – let's say “yes”, but I'm not going to say where all the peasants would come from.

(not a real quote, but you get the idea.)

Alcorn also sometimes errs a little on the side of literalism for my taste, but at least he admits it. For example, he suggests that the streets in the New Jerusalem will literally be made of gold (p.478). But those are only minor quibbles and actually it is a really good book. The Q&A section does work if it's being used as a reference book, and some of the questions (e.g. on animals in heaven) are handled really well.

He reports one conversation between a young bibliophile and an older wiser Christian. The young man asks “Will we have books in heaven?”, and the older Christian replies “Yes, but only the ones you've lent out or given away.” This is a really good book, and I suspect I will indeed be lending it out! One final quote:

What if the resurrection of the dead is an actual, bodily resurrection? What if the New Earth will be real? What if Heaven will be a tangible, earthly place inhabited by people with bodies, intellect, creativity, and culture-building relational skills? What if a physical Heaven is God's plan and has been all along? What terminology would God have to use to convince us of this? How would it be different to what he has actually used in Scripture? (p.479)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wi-Fi and Individualism

From where I am sitting at the moment, my computer can pick up 13 home wireless internet connections. There are so many that they block each other's signals, and each home will be paying roughly £15 per month for theirs, which they don't use all the time.

The solution should be obvious - neighbourhood wi-fi. A group of 6 or so nearby houses pays for a really good uncapped internet connection, with 2 or 3 transmitters. They get less signal interference, it costs the householders less, and the first company to offer a deal like that makes pots of cash. But it isn't happening because we're too individualistic, don't know our neighbours and so on. Oh, and this way the ISPs make more money in total.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dealing with Discrimination

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
Acts 6:1, ESV

How does the early church deal with discrimination? And what can that teach us today?

1. Discrimination is Inevitable

At this stage in Acts, the early church hasn't done much wrong. They are sharing everything they have with each other; they are growing rapidly; they are taking care of the poor. And yet the perception of discrimination arises. Maybe it's because the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews, probably from outside Israel) didn't speak the language as well as Hebrews (Hebrew-speaking Jews from inside Israel). Maybe it's because the Hebrews knew people better or were pushier because they were in their home town and the Hellenists were visitors. But whatever the reason, the Hellenists felt that they were being discriminated against. No human system is ever good enough to completely remove the perception of discrimination against someone.

2. The Perception of Discrimination is Itself a Problem

According to various bodies, if someone thinks they are being discriminated against, then they are. I used to think that was stupid, but as time has gone on, I've seen the wisdom of it. It is importance not only that justice is done but that justice is seen to be done.

3. Avoiding Discrimination Really Matters

The apostles convene a full meeting of the whole church to discuss the issue (Acts 6:2).

4. Discrimination Shouldn't Stop Preaching

The apostles recognise that the problem of discrimination has the potential to stop the central work of preaching and prayer, so they choose 7 other people to deal with it. That's not to say that discrimination doesn't matter – of course it does. It can even be a central issue – God includes all sorts of people in his kingdom, and the Jerusalem Council was convened to deal with the question of Jews and Gentiles in the Church. But other things matter too, and we should take care that dealing with discrimination doesn't stop us from doing those things.

5. The Victims of Discrimination Should Be Put In Charge of Righting It

The Seven are an interesting group. The dispute, remember, was between Greek-speaking Jews and Hebrew-speaking Jews. And the group appointed to sort it out were: Stephen (Greek name), Philip (could be Hebrew or Greek), and Prochorus (Greek), and Nicanor (Greek), and Timon (Greek), and Parmenas (Greek), and Nicolaus (Greek – and he wasn't even ethnically Jewish). 6 of them were from the group that felt that they were being wronged. And that's important, because putting them in charge removes the perception of discrimination as well. The Greek-speaking Jews can't complain that they're being discriminated against because they are now the ones in charge of food allocation.

6. The Non-Victims Should Be Protected

Of course, in trying to right any discrimination, there's the possibility of overreaction. And so it's important that the apostles protect against this as well. The Seven are described as “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”. They weren't going to mistreat the Hebrew widows to try to get revenge or anything like that.

Application

So which groups in the church feel discriminated against? Women in ministry can feel discriminated against. And those who oppose women in ministry certainly do feel discriminated against.

The Biblical solution then is to put those who feel discriminated against in charge of the protection against discrimination. Legislation for women bishops should therefore be drafted and agreed on by two groups – godly, committed women in ministry and godly, committed people who oppose them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What's With Paul and Women? by John Zens

When we debate with others, we need to make sure we understand their point of view too. Otherwise we run the risk of being deluded into believing our own bluster.

One area where this is particularly true is the debate about women in leadership in the church. For one side, the issue is one of fairness, of not arbitrarily saying that 50% of the church should not be allowed to teach or lead. For the other side, the issue is one of striving to be faithful to the Bible (or to tradition), especially when it doesn't fit with our cultural preconceptions.

What is needed in the debate, therefore, is for people who bridge the gap – who either seek to show how restricting the ministry of women is fair, reasonable and just or to show how allowing women to teach, preach and lead is compatible with the Bible. This book is an attempt to do the latter.

Zens takes the key passage of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, and tries to show that it addresses a specific situation in the church in first-century Ephesus rather than being a general injunction for all time. And he makes some good points. For example, by arguing that Paul's instructions to women all match up with specific features of the Ephesians Artemis-cult, he provides the first decent explanation I've seen of how v15 follows on from v8-14.

Some bits of the argument could be unpacked better. For example, I don't remember him making the specific link between the women wearing fancy hair styles to worship Artemis, or their leadership, and them seeking protection in childbirth. It is implicit in what Zens writes, but if he'd spelt it out a bit more, and then unpacked that Paul is showing them that there is a better way...

But the book's big weakness is how it treats people who disagree. The foreword is full of invective against people who restrict women's ministry. And regardless of whether it is true or not, that is not the way to win an argument with people who are honestly seeking to follow what they think God is saying. Ditto with Zens' argument in v12. He translates the verse “I do not now permit...”, and then makes his main point from the word “now”. However, it isn't in the verse in Greek. If Paul had wanted to put a “now” in, he could have done and he didn't. Zens is right of course that the verse could be describing Paul's practice at that time and in that situation, but grammatically it could also be describing his settled and permanent policy. That question can't be settled on grammar alone, so in implicitly saying that it can, Zens makes the serious mistake of over-arguing. I don't like people using bad arguments in debates because 1) it makes it look as if they don't have any good arguments 2) it makes it look as if they've already decided what the “truth” is before considering the arguments.

Other things about the book grated as well. When Zens wants to make a point I think is controversial, the sources he refers to to establish it are mostly non-peer-reviewed ones – he seems disturbingly fond of putting blogs in his references. Now I quite like reading people's blogs, but I don't always assume they're true. If I'm reading the blog of a noted Biblical scholar, I expect them to be right on the Biblical stuff and to have done their research. But Zens sometimes comes across as having the attitude “It says it on the internet, therefore it must be true.”

All in all, a thought-provoking read, and he makes some good points, but it could have been so much better if this book actually looked like an attempt to understand the verses rather than an attempt to have a go at people who disagree.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Healing" Homosexuality?

There is quite a bit of controversy at the moment about the possibility of therapy that is said might lead to gay people becoming straight. Albert Mohler, for example, has written an article about it which misses the point.

People argue about whether it is ok to condemn homosexuality. But that is surely neither here nor there in the argument! Consider this:

  • It is acceptable to be either male or female.
  • However, there are some people who are biologically male who wish to be female, or vice versa.
  • In modern culture, that too is acceptable.
  • We as a culture do not have a problem with men who wish to become women undergoing therapy to help them make that change.
  • Biological gender is clearly "hardwired" in a deeper sense than sexual "orientation".
  • Hence if we allow someone who wishes to change their biological gender to undergo therapy to do so, then we should also allow someone who wishes to change their sexual orientation to undergo therapy to do so (whether straight -> gay or gay -> straight)
  • Therefore, even in an areligious secular liberal state, we should allow therapy for people to change their sexual orientation.

Note that this argument does not assume that homosexuality is right, wrong, neutral or disordered. It does not assume anything about the authority of Scripture. It is therefore much more likely to be accepted as an argument by people who don't agree with those points. I don't understand why it isn't used more.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Three Books That Should Be on Ministry Reading Lists

Here are three books I wish had been on at least one of my reading lists. (And one that I'm glad wasn't!)

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul Tripp

This is the best book I have ever read on pastoral care. It is the best book I have ever read on pastoral counselling. It is one of the best books I have ever read on psychology from a Christian point of view. It is one of the few books I have read that seems to understand the depths of idolatry in the human heart, and that seeks to bring people to proper worship of God. Brilliant.

Deliverance by Michael Perry

This a book version of the official guidelines from the Church of England working group on Deliverance ministry. Given that fact, it's surprisingly good. They don't seem to have any anti-supernatural bias or anything, and have done their research into the nature of the phenomena and best practice very well. Well worth a read for anyone in ministry who comes across situations where deliverance is requested or an option. Recommended by my Training Incumbent.

Rid of My Disgrace by Justin & Lindsey Holcombe

This is a great book for those who have suffered from sexual abuse and those working with them. I wish I'd known about it earlier. In my somewhat limited experience, those who have suffered from such abuse often need someone who really understands what they are going through. The Holcombes really seem to, and speak grace into that situation really well.

Conduct Gospel-Centred Funerals by Newton and Croft

This book, on the other hand was a big disappointment. If you've never really thought about how to conduct a funeral, and don't know anyone who does them regularly whom you can ask for help, this is probably a useful guide. Except even then, so much of it is tied up in US culture and so on. Maybe worth reading as a discussion starter for people who have never led a funeral or if your theological college missed that bit out completely. But for those of us who were trained in how to do funerals and aren't ministering in the US, pretty much useless.

Having said that, I do read and recommend other stuff written by the authors.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Retirement

There is one Biblical reference to retirement on any grounds other than ill health. And it's in Luke 12.

Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:15-21, NIV

And it's great to see that John Piper's on the same page...

HT to What's Best Next? for the video.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Were Adam and Eve Historical?

This article is a good summary of the current state of a very interesting debate. Lots of the points made in the debate are very good ones, and some of them see difficult to reconcile with other very good points.

For what it's worth, I'm not compleltely sure exactly what I think, but I want to affirm the following two points:

  1. Adam and Eve really existed.
  2. The scientific evidence is not deceptive.

It isn't obvious how to reconcile those points - here are a few ideas.

Were Adam and Eve the only people alive at the time? That probably depends on what you mean by "people". I think Biblically it is clear that they are the first real humans, because they are the first ones to be given the divine image, which was subsequently spoilt, and being human is fundamentally about the capacity for relationship with God. Were there other members of the genus homo alive at the time? Maybe, but if so Adam was their representative head and so after the Fall they share in his image, which is fallen from the image of God.

Although the scientific evidence is not deceptive, the study on that evidence may have been done badly for various reason. It may be there are factors of which they are unaware. They might have been using faulty models.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mission as Participation in the Divine Nature

The mission of God's people, then, is not some external structure built by the church itself - a program or strategy devised by an institution. Sending is mission is a participation in the life of God. The mission of God's people, in this dimension of sending and being sent, is to be caught up within the dynamic sending and being sent that God the Holy Trinity has done and continues to do for the salvation of the world and the revelation of his truth.
Christopher Wright, The Mission of God's People, p.211

Friday, May 20, 2011

Not Going Where God Wants?

Roger Carswell has written a really challenging piece here about how most evangelicals seem to want to go to where there are already plenty of Christians rather than where there are few. I know lots of people in that category, but I know a fair few who would rather go where Christ is not known, and they are a real encouragement to me.

HT Tim Chester.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Death of Osama bin Laden

‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
Ezekiel 33:11, NIV

I've been meaning to write this post ever since I heard about bin Laden's death, but it's been a very busy couple of weeks. It raises all kind of questions, but I'm going to think about three of them. Was what happened just? Was it right? And should Americans have rejoiced the way they did?

First, was it just?

Osama bin Laden had personally declared war on the US. He claimed responsibility for and delighted in the events of 9/11, and clearly intended to continue to do such acts whenever he was able to do so. Had the USA captured him and put him on trial in any court in the world (except possibly those operating under Sharia Law), he would have been found guilty, and in any court that allowed the death penalty, he would have been sentenced to death. There was no possibility of reasonable doubt about his guilt, or about the seriousness of his actions. The killing of Osama bin Laden was, without a doubt, just.

But was it right?

That is a harder question. Was it right for the US to send a team of heavily armed Navy Seals into Pakistan without permission and to assassinate an unarmed man? Again, perspective helps here. The US is at war in Afghanistan, a war which had as one of its major aims to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. The war spills over the border into Pakistan, and Pakistan is officially on America's side in that war.

For the US, acting without Pakistan's permission was a necessary part of the operation. If they had asked for permission, they would have put the Pakistani government in a difficult position. Either they grant permission, in which case they get even more protests from their own population, or they refuse it and lose all US support. Far better for the Pakistani government not to have to make the choice at all. Furthermore, had the US told Pakistan of its intentions, the Pakistani authorities are sufficiently compromised by links to Al Qua'eda that it is highly likely that bin Laden would have been notified and enabled to escape. In addition, if any country (except Russia or China) had been knowingly harbouring bin Laden, it is likely that the US would have if necessary declared war on them to get at him. Much better for them, and much better for the host country, not to have to bother.

Was it right to kill bin Laden given that he was unarmed? I have already pointed out that he would have been sentenced to death anyway, so the only issue is the manner of his death. If one is in battle, and a sniper has the opportunity to shoot the enemy commander, they do not worry too much whether or not he is armed at the time. Even if it was not in battle, if in WW2 a German tank column was moving through Europe, and a British sniper caught sight of the German General Rommel and shot him, even if he was not even carriyng a gun at the time, that would be regarded as perfectly legitimate. And bin Laden clearly thought he was at war with the US. I don't see what the moral difference is.

In addition, there are problems associated with keeping bin Laden in prison. It would provide an incredibly high-profile target for protests and suicide bombings, and it could be argued it was far better tactically to kill him and bury him at sea. Having said all that, I think if it would have been possible to capture and put bin Laden on trial, that may have been even better.

I don't mean better from the point of view of justice at all - I mean from the point of view of what bin Laden seemed to understand so little about - mercy. Of course he didn't deserve it - if he had deserved it, it wouldn't have been mercy. To allow him the possibility of repentance would have been a very merciful thing. Of course, to allow him the possibility to give a memorable speech inciting the Muslim world to unity and hatred of the West would have been a very dangerous thing, so it would have had to be handled carefully.

And so we come onto the question about whether it was right to rejoice. I think relatives of those killed in 9/11 could have rejoiced. But ultimately God does not rejoice in the death of sinners, but rather that they turn from their wickedness and live. If bin Laden had turned around and become a force for peace in the world, even a living demonstration of the power of God to change sinners, that would have been cause for rejoicing. As it is, it seems that he is just one more unrepentant sinner going to Hell. That isn't something to rejoice in, especially when we recognise that it is what we deserve too - it is where we would be but for the grace and mercy that God has shown us.

History of Homosexual Theology

Concerning homosexuality there has been absolute unanimity in church history; sexual intimacy between persons of the same gender has never been recognized as legitimate behavior for a Christian. One finds no examples of orthodox teachers who suggested that homosexual activity could be acceptable in God's sight under any circumstances. Revisionist biblical interpretations that purport to support homosexual practice are typically rooted in novel hermeneutical principles applied to Scripture, which produce bizarre interpretations of the Bible held nowhere, never, by no one.

from here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding

What a day! What a celebration! It's great to know that we can still all get behind celebrating something as wonderful as a Royal Wedding!

Of course, it also reminds us of the glorious reality behind marriage. My wife predicted a whole spate of Christian posts on it, but I've not seen that many. The best however, has to be this one from Barry Cooper (who is famous for not being Rico Tice). Quotes below.

But we can focus too much on sin. Today is a day where a Royal Prince, who will (God-willing) one day be King, marries a commoner, and she therefore becomes Royal. What a great picture in itself of what God has done for us!

In a shocking revelation, the palace has confirmed that the Prince has married a prostitute.

The woman has not yet been publicly named. But sources close to the palace have revealed that as well as being a serial adulterer, she is also known to be a notorious drunk, an inveterate liar, and a grievous hypocrite.

When asked why he would set his love on such an undeserving bride, the future King replied, “I have always loved her. I loved her from the very beginning, before she even knew me. And I will continue to love her, regardless of who she is. Nothing can separate us, not even death.”

Some have complained that, given her profession, such a woman could never become Queen. But the Prince was unrepentant: “If I am King, and I choose to marry her, then she becomes Queen. Whatever she may be, her status changed forever when I joined myself to her. Whatever she may do, she has been irrevocably welcomed into my family. Everything I have is now hers. And everything she has, I have taken upon myself.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Derren Brown - Miracles for Sale - Review and Critique

These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy.
1 Tim 6:5 (NLT)

Last night, Derren Brown did a TV expose of American faith healers. There's a link to the website here. I thought a lot of it was good and well done, but it could have been significantly better.

Brown started with a crowd of volunteers, and then picked and trained one to become a fake faith healer, using some of the techniques he was sure that many of the "real" fake healers were using. His target was specifically the faith healers linked to the so-called Prosperity Gospel who teach that in order for God to bless you the most, you need to give the most money to them.

I don't doubt that there are plenty of such people. The Bible warns about them (see above). I've written against the "prosperity gospel" before. I thought it was especially good how Brown at al worked alongside Christians and Christian organisations in trying to expose the con artists.

One of the problems they had was getting enough publicity in the US. Most churches were surprisingly well-guarded about letting Brown's fake faith-healer preach or publicising his event - encouragingly so. It was also encouraging that Brown decided not to use a US Christian publicist, for fear of destroying his business when it became clear that they were fakes.

Critique

Brown is of course dead right that a lot of "faith healers" are manipulative charlatans. But there are others too. I'm sure that some are well-meaning and wanting to see God at work, and get easily tricked into faking stuff without realising they're doing it, and then misled into running after money. I'm sure too that others are genuine. I have a friend whose leg was miraculously healed, and who has a letter from his NHS consultant to that effect.

One of the key ways of telling the difference is their attitude to money, sex and power. If they are getting rich from their status and their ministry, then I would suggest they aren't genuine. Maybe some of the healings might be, but their hearts are clearly in the wrong place. Jesus did lots of miraculous healings; the apostles did miraculous healings, but they didn't get rich from them - they got killed.

The well-known Christian leaders I have the most respect for are the ones who are either on fixed salaries / stipends (as in most of the C of E), or who have set up trusts so that they personally don't get book royalties, donations, etc (as Rick Warren, John Piper, etc) and are instead paid by the church they work for. They also make sure they don't profit in other ways - strict rules about accountability and so on. Billy Graham famously didn't allow himself to be unsupervised with any woman except for his wife - he'd even refuse to go along in a taxi if the driver was female.

Healing on the Streets is an informal British movement which got briefly referenced. When that sort of thing is done as publicity for big rallies with financial appeals, as with Derren Brown's examples, it may well be faked and wrongly motivated.

I'm pretty sure that most of the British stuff is in a different category. Let me explain. I've been to a big conference where we were encouraged to go out and pray for people on the streets. Not to fake stuff, but to go out and do it. I've also seen the leg lengthening thing done in that context, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't done like Derren Brown did it with the loosening of shoes. I think it was to do with posture and the angle the person was sitting at on a cheap plastic chair - if you slip slightly to the left because someone is pulling your left leg, it appears to become longer. I'm not sure if the person showing us that knew that he was faking it, but I know that "miracle" is easy to fake, even if you don't realise you're doing it. I know people who do Healing on the Streets, and they're genuine about it - they're doing it because they want to see God blessing people rather than to get money, sex or power, and they're not trying to do fake healings like on the film. I also know that God does sometimes heal people genuinely.

I know too that God does sometimes give people words of knowledge about others. It was interesting to see how they faked it on the programme, but the existence of a fake does not imply that real ones don't exist.

Lessons for us

I help to run a bi-monthly Service of Prayer for Healing and Wholeness. And it's really important for us to be clear that we're not in it for financial gain. So we don't, and we shouldn't take collections at services where we pray specifically for healing.

We should be clear it isn't about personalities - I read somewhere that best practice is only ever to pray for healing in pairs or groups, so that you never know which person's prayers led to any healings that happen and so detract from any possible personality cult. The Biblical model is that it should be done by the elders (plural) of the church, with anointing with oil, and that seems right. There is one person who heals, and it's Jesus, not me.

We should be clear in our attitudes that it's about us serving and laying ourselves down for others, just as Christ has done for us. If attention ever starts to drift onto us or onto the healings, push it back onto Christ, because that's where it belongs.

We should also be clear to distance ourselves from those who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. And that's partly why I welcome Derren Brown's programme.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sexual Revolution: Defend It, If You Can

This is a brilliant article, which argues from good old-fashioned ethics that the sexual revolution has been and continues to be a Bad Thing. Here's his conclusion - I'd love to see an attempt at a response from someone who disagrees...

In other words, let the sexual revolution be justified on grounds of the common good. I believe it fails that test miserably, with evidence that is weighty, obvious, manifold, logically and anthropologically deducible, and clearly predictable by wisdom both pagan and Christian. Let them make their case, rather than asserting a principle that, in reality, would destroy the very idea of the common good. For if we cannot appeal to the common good in a matter so fundamental, I do not see how we can appeal to it in any other.

It's worth adding that I know we are now living after the sexual revolution, and there's no point trying to pretend otherwise.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Alternative Vote Referrendum

In the UK, we're about to have a referrendum on whether to change the voting system. Here's a video that explains some of the issues. And I know it ends up pro-AV. I'm not sure which way I'd vote - at the moment it's more likely I'd go for Alternative Vote than First Past the Post. If someone can point me to a sensible argument for FPTP, I'd be happy to consider posting that too.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Evangelism and Nominal Christians

I was reading a short article the other day by Dan Clark, author of "I'm a Christian, aren't I?", and it got me thinking.

90%+ of the training I've had in evangelism has been assuming that the people I'm speaking to don't already think they are Christians. 90% of those I meet who don't attend church regularly already think they are Christians but don't show much sign of it in their lives - they're nominal.

Of course, it's not for me to question the reality or otherwise of their faith. But at the same time, it is clear that just claiming to be a Christian isn't enough, and I as a minister should be helping them know, love and serve Jesus better.

So...

Anyone read Dan Clark's book?
Anyone know other good resources for specifically helping nominal Christians know God better?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Did God Have a Wife?

“Did God have a wife?” was the title of a programme on BBC2 yesterday. I didn't bother watching it, because that series isn't about presenting new evidence; it's about recycling old arguments that have been refuted but still hang around like a bad smell in the atheistic corners of the theology faculties of the world. And it depresses me to see the stupid things that people get paid to say on TV and other people accept is true.

Here's their basic argument:
YHWH is the Hebrew personal name for the God of the Old Testament. Someone found an inscription in the area of Israel from the Old Testament period saying “YHWH and his Asherah”. Asherah was a female goddess. Therefore, so the argument goes, the ancient Israelites said that God had a wife, called Asherah. And what you see described in the Old Testament are the attempts to stamp it out.

Here's some background you probably need in order to understand the situation: The main gods in the (“pagan”) Canaanite pantheon around 800BC were called El, Asherah and Ba'al. El and Asherah were married, Ba'al was their son. But Ba'al and Asherah were comparative newcomers – they don't appear on the scene much before 1500BC. So at the time the books of Kings are set, it's El, Asherah and Ba'al; at the time of Abraham, it's just El and some worship of the Sun and Moon.

Now, when Abraham was around, God revealed himself to him as “El”, or variants of “El” like “El Shaddai”, “El Elyon” and so on. I've written more about that here. The traditional argument is that “El” was how they remembered the true God, and Ba'al and Asherah were later additions. The Hebrew conception of El is similar to the Arabic Al, which was later picked up by Mohammed as Allah... It's also similar to the Latin “Deus” and the English “God”, which are used both as a title for the one God but also as labels for the many gods in a polytheistic pantheon.

But at the time of Moses, God revealed himself by the name YHWH as well as El – YHWH is used as a name that's associated with God's promises and with the fact that they come out of Egypt. Interestingly, God first uses the name when Moses basically asks him which God he is, because Moses grew up in polytheistic Egypt. When there is only really one God worshipped at the time of Abraham, God is fine going as just “God”, but when there are lots of gods around, he adds the name YHWH.

So by the time you get to the books of Kings, the followers of Moses' religion use El and YHWH for the same God. Elijah, who is one of the big figures in that religion in about 800BC even had a name that meant “El is YHWH”. The followers of Canaanite paganism had three main gods – El, Asherah and Ba'al. And so the question is whether the two religions were actually merged.

Right, so now to the argument.

The way that ancient history works is that there is often some kind of text that describes what happens. If you're lucky, it's from roughly the same time as the events it describes. If you're very lucky, there are two or more texts. And there may be some archaeology as well, which usually won't be enough to put a complete picture together. Ancient history tends to treat the text as basically reliable, unless there is some contradictory evidence from archaeology or unless the events described are impossible. We shouldn't discard the narrative account unless it clashes with archaeology – that's bad history.

That means that we need to think about what situation the Bible actually describes from about 900BC to 500BC. And what we see is that the people of Israel consistently sliding back into worshipping other gods, starting off with the gods of the Canaanites like Ba'al and Asherah under kings like Ahab and Ahaziah, and moving onto worshipping the gods of the nations around them like Chemosh and Molech. So according to the Old Testament, what you get is people trying to merge Judaism with Canaanite paganism. You get people building Asherah poles in the temple, for example. And the prophets (the ones the OT calls “true prophets” anyway) are consistently criticising them for doing so.

My point is this:
If the Old Testament account is right, then you'd expect that many of the Israelites were worshipping YWHW alongside Asherah and trying to merge Judaism with Canaanite paganism. So you'd expect them to be making statues saying things like YHWH and his Asherah. You'd also expect the OT prophets like Elijah to be condemning them for it.

Does it mean that God had a wife? No.

So what's new?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Rob Bell, Universalism and Hell

There's been quite a lot of controversy lately about Rob Bell's new book, which is probably a very well-done marketing campaign to make sure it sells lots of copies, which it will.

Rob Bell's past work (e.g. Nooma) is generally really really good at connecting with modern culture, especially the end of it that likes computers with fruit logos on. But he often leaves himself open to the accusation that he is so connected to modern culture that he has at some points lost connection with the Bible.

His new book is called "Love Wins", and sounds like it will be about the non-existence of Hell. Some condemn it outright on the grounds that it looks like it's teaching universalism - that everyone will be saved in the end. And others condemn those people on the grounds that it's a bad idea to attack someone on the basis of a book that isn't even out yet.

Anyway, I thought that Richaard Taylor got the balance about right on his blog. He explains why universalism doesn't work as an idea, then leaves it up to the reader to decide whether or not Rob Bell is teaching it.

Here are a few quick reasons why I don't think universalism works.

1. It downplays the seriousness of sin

In modern western culture, we tend to forget how much of a big deal sin is. Sin is us rejecting the God who made us. Sin is saying that we think we are better off away from the source of all life and love. Sin is ultimately attempted deicide - us trying to kill God - and part of the shock of the cross is that we managed it. Except that death couldn't hold him.

We tend to think that God treats sin like a benevolent old grandfather would, welcoming us in and gently ticking us off for occasional bits of naughtiness while actually indulging us. But sin is far more serious than that. Sin is trying to kill the rightful and loving ruler of the universe and put ourselves in his place. Sin is cosmic treason. God cannot and should not just shrug it off and say that it is all ok.

2. It downplays the dignity of human responsibility

Some people clearly reject God. They clearly say that they do not want God to be Lord of their lives - they want to run the show themselves. And in some cases, over time, those people come to change their minds. But what if they don't? What if they hard-heartedly persist in their rejection of God? Is he going to over-ride them completely, and drag them kicking and screaming somewhere where they do not want to go? Or is he going to let them choose to reject him?

3. It misunderstands the nature of heaven

Jesus said to God "this is eternal life - to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John 17:3). The essence of eternal life is to know God, and to be in relationship with him. Heaven is not some beautiful existence with God as an incidental feature - it is seeing God face to face and knowing him fully in perfect communion with him. Everything else is secondary.

So what would it mean for those who persistently rejected God to be in heaven? Some people argue that heaven and hell are actually the same, and are experienced differently by different people only because of their attitude to God. And I'm not persuaded by that argument, but there's certainly something in it.

Imagine that you'd been bullying a kid in the playground, and then his dad becomes headmaster or Prime Minister. You'd feel pretty stupid, and scared. Now imagine that the God you had been persistently trying to dethrone as king of the universe, surpress, ignore and even kill - suppose that that God turns out to be the ultimate reality of the universe. How is that meant to be good news for you?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Everything you know (about preaching) is wrong...

Looking back, I should have realised the first time I heard Charlie speak. Charlie is the minister of a large charismatic church near where I used to live. I've heard him preach half a dozen or so times. Charlie isn't the best preacher in the world. I mean, he's not a bad preacher but he doesn't do most of the things that I learned to do in preaching training. His structure is often unclear; it's sometimes hard to tell what his main point is, and so on. On a technical level, I know lots of people who are "better" preachers than Charlie, many of them not in full-time Christian work.

But when Charlie speaks, God really moves in the hearts and minds of the people who are listening. And I'll bet it's because Charlie prays, and prays a lot. On the level that actually matters, rather than the level we're taught to preach and evaluate sermons on, he's one of the best preachers I know.

I've been through theological college. I've been on conferences about how to preach. I've read quite a few books on the topic, and yet prayer is hardly mentioned. Just about the most recent book on preaching I've read which spent anywhere near enough time on prayer is Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students. Perhaps that is why we now see God moving so little through preaching.

It matters far more that we spend much time in prayer than that we spend much time in preparation, or in alliteration, sharpening or making our points memorable. As Andrew Murray wrote, there is no record of Jesus teaching his apostles to preach, but he did teach them to pray. Preaching is ultimately about God's work in the hearts of the hearers rather than our work in the mind of the preacher, so prayer must be the key.

This is Baxter's advice to preachers:

Above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation. Thence you must fetch the heavenly fire that must kindle your sacrifices... Therefore [before preaching] go then specially to God for life: read some rousing, awakening book, or meditate on the weight of the subject of which you are to speak, and on the great necessity of your people's souls, that you may go in the zeal of the Lord into his house... that every one who comes cold into the assembly may have some warmth imparted to him before he depart.
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, p.62-63

and Spurgeon's

Prayer is the best studying.
C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, p.90

And here's R.C. Sproul Jr on what we can tell about how to preach from Scripture:

The Bible is clear that there is power to change us in the preaching of the Word. We know we are to preach the Word, and not our own wisdom. We know we are to preach Christ, and Him crucified. That, however, doesn’t tell us everything. I confess that I could preach for days on how to preach a proper sermon, but I would run out of proof-texts the first hour.
from here

Why, oh why do we so often try to make preaching a human work? I am not doing down the importance of preparation and much skilful preparation, or of God's work through our work in preparation. But I suspect that we treat it far more as our work than God's, and should pray accordingly.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Limited Atonement?

Did Jesus only die for the sins of those who believe in him, or for the sins of everyone?

I've recently finished reading "Life by His Death", which is a simplified version of John Owen's classic The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. I didn't feel the need to read a simplified version - but Amazon were out of DoDitDoC and they didn't say this version was simplified... Poor excuse, and if anyone who has read DoDitDoC says it deals with some of the criticisms of it here, I'm happy to make the effort to find a copy.

The book itself is a strong defence of the doctrine of Limited Atonement - that Christ died only for those who trust in him rather than for everyone without exception. It's a controversial doctrine, so I thought it worth writing a few thoughts about it.

Much of what Owen writes is brilliant - he argues strongly from God's sovereignty and from the fact that we require the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to life and open our eyes before we believe that we cannot trust God unless he draws us to do so, and if he draws us to do so, we cannot resist.

It really got me thinking what it would be like to preach evangelistically trusting properly in God's sovereignty, and seeking to encourage God's work in people and preaching to those whom God is working in rather than those in whom he is not yet working...

Thus we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God's love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence 'at the door of our hearts' for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with some emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel.
J.I. Packer, Introduction

The weaknesses in Owen's arugments are twofold. Firstly, he comes to a theological position based on some texts, and then interprets others in the light of his theology. One of his most common arguments is "this text does not mean A, because we already know ~A". Hence many of his arguments would only work on those who already hold to the authority and consistency of Scripture. At the same time, his arguments could be (and have been) reversed. People could argue from the verses that seem to teach ~A that it is true, and then use exactly the same tactics on the verses that seem to teach A. I think they'd come unstuck though, because their conception of God would not really be sovereign, but that doesn't change the problem with using it as an arguing technique.

The second problem is that Owen almost always looks at things from a God's-eye view. And actually, I agree with Owen. From God's point of view, when Jesus died, God knew and had chosen those who were going to trust in him, and Jesus died only for their sins. From God's point of view, Jesus did not die for those who would not trust in him.

But from our point of view, things are very different. There's only one point in the book where Owen's view changes to ours.

Preachers can never know who, in their congregations, are God's elect. They must therefore call on all to believe, and promise that as many as do will be saved, for there is enough in the death of Christ to save all who believe.
Life by His Death, p.52

Most people don't function with a God's eye view. Most people find conceptual arguments difficult to follow, and Owen employs little else. I'm heavily conceptual, and I found it difficult that when he kept mentioning the many people who hadn't heard of Jesus, he never once used it as a motivation to tell them!

I think that at the end of the day, Owen is right about Jesus' death. I don't know if in 1647 there were people who believed in the full authority and consistency of Scripture, were comfortable with highly conceptual arguments and believed that Jesus died to actually forgive the sins of all rather than just those who believe. If there were, maybe this book is the reason there are so few such people now. But that's clearly who the book is aimed at.

But it is critically important that we hold that belief in tension with human responsibility and the fact that the gospel is held out to all, because Jesus died for anyone who will put their trust in him.

Books I've Read Recently 3 - Now, Discover Your Strengths

As far as I know, this isn't a Christian book. It's a book by two people who have done a lot of research (with Gallup) into people's working patterns. But we can learn from them, and it's always nice to see secular researchers getting back to where the Bible said they should be, which they kind-of do...

The basic thesis of the book is that we work best by focusing on our strengths rather than our weaknesses. I think that's a good point, and they justify it well.

The book is based around the question "At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best very day?" They asked that to a lot of employees, managers, and so on, and found that the people who said "yes" were more productive, enjoyed work more, were healthier and happier, and so on. They found that companies that enabled employees to do that worked better as a whole.

The authors then go on to identify 34 different "strengths", which is enough for there to be 34C5 = 278,256 different combinations of top 5 strengths, even if you ignore the order. Including ordering too, that's over 33 million permutations. And they offer an online test to determine what your top 5 are. There are then a good number of suggestions of how to use your strengths to deal with weaknesses, how to encourage others to use their strengths and so on. A lot of it is common sense, but common sense isn't always very common, as evidenced by some in the Church of England who think that all clergy should be able to do any clergy job.

Weaknesses in the book - they don't explain exactly where the 34 strengths come from. I very much doubt that they are all independent. For example, I would expect people who score highly on "intellection" also to score highly on "deliberative". Nor do they explain why 5 is the magic number - I would expect that some people are more focused than others - one person might have 80% of their abilities on one skill, another might have 20% distributed across each of 5 skills. And some people might just have more innate ability than others anyway. Some of their suggestions are just plain silly too - replacing interviews with just competency measures, for example - often basic conversational skills and personality are important, and you miss that through just doing tests.

There are some good insights as well - for example the way that performance reviews often don't measure performance in the ways that matter. All in all, I found it a thought-provoking read. I don't agree with everything in it, and some bits were overly long and tedious, and the good research doesn't justify all the conclusions they hang on it in terms of the 34 types. But in terms of thinking about what it means for us to be given different gifts, and for us to be different parts of the body, and to be supporting one another as different parts of the body, it was well worth a read.

Books I've Read Recently 2 - Calvin, by Bruce Gordon

2009 was the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth, and this was one of the biographies released to celebrate. From reviews I've read, it's meant to be just about the best biography of Calvin written thus far. And it is very good. I don't think it's the definitive biography - you don't feel like you know Calvin after reading it - but you feel like you know someone who knows him well.

It's an interesting read particularly because I get the impression that Bruce Gordon's natural reaction is not to like Calvin much at all, and there are a few bits where that comes through. But he ends up with at least a strong grudging admiration for him. There's one sentence in the preface which kind of captures that. "[Calvin] never felt that he had encountered an intellectual equal, and he was probably correct." I'm not sure that's true from Calvin's life as Gordon tells it either - Calvin certainly attached himself to various people (e.g. Martin Bucer) as mentors and so on.

But Gordon does do a very good job of showing us how Calvin fits into the times, how he was influenced by different people at different times, and changed his mind on some issues, and so on. It's very much a warts-and-all biography, but Calvin wouldn't have wanted it any other way! He really gets into Calvin's thoughts and priorities as well - I hadn't realised, for example, how closely some of the issues addressed in the Commentaries tie into events in France and the world at that stage.

What he doesn't get into really is Calvin's passion for God and his personal relationship with God, which there is such a strong sense of in his writing. But with Calvin, that is so tied up with his theology that to understand it probably needs a historian who is at least strongly sympathetic to Calvin's understanding of God's sovereignty. This is quite possibly as good a biography of Calvin as could be written by someone who doesn't share his theology.

A really good read, and a very good biography of one of the key figures in European History, and one of the biggest figures in Church History. It might be the best one yet written, but it isn't the best possible one.

Books I've Read Recently 1 - The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life

I've long been an admirer of Dale Ralph Davis. His books of sermons on Joshua - 2 Kings are models of what Christian preaching on the historical OT books can be. This book contains 12 of his sermons on the Psalms - specifically Psalms 1-12.

As you'd expect from DRD, each contains his own translation of the Psalm and a discussion of some of the textual and contextual issues, but only where they are relevant to the points he is making. The translations alone were worth the cost of the book, but I found the sermons moving, helpful, and they really pointed me to Christ.

Well worth reading devotionally, as I did. Well worth having if you are going to preach on any of the Psalms in the near future. Well worth studying to get ideas for how to preach poetry. Brilliant book.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Walking Well - Ephesians 4:17-5:17

I've recently been reading Ephesians 4 and 5, and have been really struck by the number of reasons Paul gives for avoiding sin. I found it a real encouragement to avoid sin better in my own life, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a list of them worked through properly, so here goes...

  1. Walking badly is what the Gentiles do (4v17). One of Paul's big themes in the letters is Christian identity. Those Christians (like me) who were Gentiles ethnically are no longer Gentiles because of what God has done for them in bringing them near in Christ. So we shouldn't walk as the Gentiles do.
  2. Walking as the Gentiles do stems from having minds that are futile (4v17) – the word is the same one translated “meaningless” in Ecclesiastes. The way they think and the things they think about are passing away. So don't live like they do.
  3. Not only do their actions stem from ways of thinking that are passing away, they also stem from ignorance (4v18). Sinning is an ignorant way to act.
  4. Sin stems from hard-heartedness (4v19)
  5. Sin is giving yourself away to licentiousness (4v19)
  6. Sin leads to the pursuit of every uncleanness in excess (4v19)
  7. It's not how we were taught and discipled as Christians (4v20)
  8. It's not according to the truth in Jesus (4v21-22)
  9. Sin belongs to the old person, which is being destroyed (4v22)
  10. We should put off the old person and put on the new person (4v23)
  11. Our new selves were created according to God in righteousness and devoutness of truth (4v24)
  12. We are members of each other, so should be speaking truth to one another rather than falsehood (4v25)
  13. Sinning can give the devil a foothold in our lives (4v27)
  14. Our actions should be motivated by the needs of others (4v28-29).
  15. Doing good means that we can give to the needy (4v28)
  16. Our speech should be motivated by building up the needy (4v29)
  17. Sin grieves the Spirit of God (4v30)
  18. We have been sealed by the Spirit aiming for the day of redemption. We should therefore remember that we are heading for redemption and live accordingly (4v30)
  19. We should show grace to each other rather than evil because God has showed grace to us rather than evil (4v31-32)
  20. We should imitate God (5v1)
  21. Because we are God's children (5v1)
  22. Christ loved us and gave himself up for us – we should follow his example (5v2)
  23. We are “holy ones” and therefore should live in a fitting way (5v3-4)
  24. Sin is a form of idolatry, because we are acting as if God is really just our imagined version of God rather than the real one. (5v5)
  25. Idolaters (and therefore sinners) don't get an inheritance in God's kingdom (5v5)
  26. Saying that sinners won't be punished is just empty words (5v6)
  27. God's wrath really is coming on those whose identity is tied up with sin (5v6)
  28. We shouldn't partner with those who are heading towards God's wrath. (5v7)
  29. We were darkness, but now we are light. Therefore we should live like it. (5v8)
  30. God's light at work in us should produce goodness, righteousness and truth (5v9)
  31. We should test out what pleases God (5v10)
  32. The works of darkness are futile – they don't lead anywhere good. (5v11)
  33. It is shameful even to talk about deeds of darkness (5v12)
  34. God's transforming power is available to change the dark things in our pasts into light and use them for his glory (5v13-14)
  35. Walking well is wise; walking badly is foolish (5v15)
  36. The days are evil, therefore we need to make an effort to live wisely (5v16)
  37. It's important to understand what God wants us to do rather than be foolish (5v17)

Mark's Gospel - Wordle

We're starting a series on Mark at church this term. Here's a Wordle image for the book (ESV, because they're better with making the text available).